The Tabernacle

The tabernacle was built at Mount Sinai, according to a detailed pattern given by commandment to Moses.2 A team of highly skilled and committed craftsmen, led by Bezaleel, completed it in about six months.3 The whole structure was an earthly representation of heavenly realities, Heb. 9. 24, a mobile sanctuary for Jehovah to dwell among His people.4 Known as ‘the tabernacle of the congregation’, 28. 43, it was here that God met with and spoke to His people, 25. 22; 29. 42, 43, and where the priests served, 28. 43; 38. 21. Each morning and evening, they offered burnt sacrifices, trimmed the lamps and burned sweet incense, 29. 38-46; 30. 7, 8; every Sabbath they changed the showbread, which they were permitted to eat in the holy place, Lev. 24. 5-9. Being ‘the tabernacle of testimony’, its presence in the camp witnessed to onlooking Gentiles that God was with Israel.5

Just as the tabernacle was carefully crafted according to divine instructions, everything Christians do ought to be subject to scripture. The technical skill of Bezaleel and Aholiab shows the spiritual perception required to effectively handle God’s word, 2 Tim. 2. 15, and to build into a local assembly, 1 Cor. 3. 10. God has always wished to dwell with His people. He walked with Adam in the garden, Gen. 3. 8. The Shekinah glory, which filled the tabernacle, later filled Solomon’s temple, 1 Kgs. 8. 10, 11. The Holy Spirit now resides within individual believers, 1 Cor. 6. 19, and local assemblies are viewed as God’s house, 1 Tim. 3. 15. Like Israel, who offered daily morning and evening burnt sacrifices, Christians should worship every day. The trimming of the oil lamps can be seen to picture the Lord’s tender disciplining of Christians, removing their dross and enabling them to shine more brightly through the Spirit’s energy (represented by the oil). Burning incense morning and evening shows the importance of praying every day, with the assurance that our prayers are sweet to God. As Old Testament priests ate the showbread, Christians feed on Christ, ‘the bread of life’, John 6. 35. While only the sons of Aaron were priests in Israel, all Christians are priests, 1 Pet. 2. 5, 9.

Apart from the mandatory 100 talents (and 1775 shekels) of atonement silver,6 the materials for the tabernacle were given voluntarily, and enthusiastically.7 A total of twenty-nine talents (and 730 shekels) of gold and seventy talents (and 2400 shekels) of brass were offered, 38. 24, 29. Men and women brought ‘bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold’, 35. 22. Women, who were able, gave materials they had spun, 35. 25, 26. Rulers contributed precious stones, spices, oil and incense, 35. 27, 28. It was not long before Bezaleel and Aholiab had to tell Moses ‘the people bring much more than enough … So the people were restrained from bringing’, 36. 5, 6. Similarly, all Christians should give to the Lord as they are able, with joyful hearts, realizing this opportunity is short-lived, 2 Cor. 9. 7.

The tabernacle itself was a four-layered tent. The innermost layer, 26. 1-6; 36. 8-13, referred to as ‘the tabernacle [mishkân, a residence]’, consisted of ‘ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work’. Each curtain was twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits broad. Joined together into two sets of five, the adjoining edges of each group had fifty blue loops, attached to the other group by fifty golden clasps. The second layer, 26. 7-13; 36. 14-18, called ‘the tent [’ôhel, a tent]’, 26. 14, was made of eleven ‘curtains of goats hair’, each being thirty cubits long and four cubits broad. Posteriorly, these curtains were joined into a group of five and anteriorly into a group of six, the sixth curtain folded double at the front of the tent. The innermost edge of each group had fifty loops of an undefined material, which were joined to the second group by fifty brass clasps. The additional two cubits of longitudinal length hung ‘over the backside of the tabernacle’; the additional two transverse cubits hung one cubit over each side of the tabernacle. The two outer coverings [milseh, a covering]’, 26. 14, were made of ram’s skins dyed red and the water-resistant ‘skins of the sea-cow’.8

The embroidered cherubim of the tabernacle’s inner layer were a visible reminder that angels are interested in God’s redemptive plan (1 Pet. 1. 12); they even watch and learn from local churches, 1 Cor. 11. 10; Eph. 3. 10. While the tabernacle’s waterproof outer layer was unattractive, it protected the rich colours, beauty and wealth within. Looks can be deceiving. From the outside a local assembly can seem unimpressive, yet God is there.

The tent was supported by walls of hard acacia wood9 boards, each board being one-and-a-half cubits wide and ten cubits high, and overlaid with gold, 26. 15-30; 36. 20-34. Protruding from the lower end of each board were two evenly spaced ‘tenons [yâd, hand]’, 26. 17, which were slotted into two silver sockets. These sockets reminded Israel they had been atoned for by silver. Christians, however, ‘were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold … But with the precious blood of Christ’, 1 Pet. 1. 18, 19. The southern and northern walls were each formed of twenty boards. The western wall was made of eight boards, two of these being corner boards, which were ‘connected beneath, and … united together perfectly at the top unto one ring’, 26. 24.10 Each wall was held together by five gold-plated acacia bars which were slotted into golden rings firmly attached to the boards. The middle bar stretched the entire length of its wall. Once erected, the tent was pegged with brass pins, 27. 19.

A vail11 split the tabernacle into two main sections: ‘the holy place, and the most holy’. This ‘vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work with cherubims’ hung under the tabernacle clasps, upon four acacia pillars. These pillars, having four golden hooks, were themselves overlaid with gold and slotted into four silver sockets, each socket weighing one talent. Inside the vail was placed ‘the ark of the testimony’, 25. 10-22; 37. 1-9, an acacia box, overlaid with fine gold, inside and out, bordered by a golden crown and sealed with a golden lid (the mercy seat). With the exception of the high priest’s entrance into the most holy on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, the vail (picturing Christ’s flesh) formed an impenetrable barrier into Jehovah’s presence.12 By way of contrast, Christians have unfettered access to God, Heb. 10. 19-22.

There were three pieces of furniture in the holy place. First, just outside the vail was placed the golden altar.13 Constructed of acacia – including its horns (speaking of strength) – covered with gold and framed with a golden crown, it was designed exclusively for the burning of sweet incense (representing prayer, Rev. 8. 3, 4). It was carried by two gold-covered acacia staves, slotted into two golden rings. It was atoned for annually by applying sin-offering blood to its horns.

Second, on the north side was an acacia table,14 overlaid with pure gold and edged by a double golden crown sandwiching ‘a border of an hand breadth round about’. It was carried by two gold covered acacia staves slotted into golden rings on each of its four corners. For this table, upon which sat twelve shewbread cakes, were made pure golden dishes, pans, jars and bowls, 25.29 NASB.

Third, on the south side stood the golden lampstand (menôrâh).15 Since there were no windows in the tabernacle this lampstand was needed to give the priests light to serve in the holy place. One talent of pure gold was used to make this lampstand and all its vessels, including tongs and snuffdishes. Projecting out of two sides of its central shaft were three branches, upon which were three almond-blossom-like cups, a bulb and a flower (suggesting fruitfulness). The central stem itself had four almond-blossom-like cups, bulbs and flowers, three of the four cups positioned beneath the three pairs of branches. Lamps, burning brightly with olive oil (symbolizing the Holy Spirit), topped the main shaft and each of its six branches. Beaten out of one piece of pure gold, this beautiful lampstand required immense skill in its manufacture.

At the tabernacle entrance stood five acacia pillars, covered with gold and slotted into five brazen sockets, 26. 36, 37; 36. 37, 38. Each pillar had golden hooks and gilded connecting-rods (JND), upon which was suspended a hanging ‘of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework’. It was here Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priest’s office, 29. 1-15; 40. 12-16; Lev. 8, and, within which, Aaron was ordered to remain while mourning his sons’ fiery judgment, 10. 6, 7, a solemn reminder that ‘our God is a consuming fire’, Heb. 12. 29.

Endnotes

1

Unless otherwise stated, references are from Exodus.

2

25. 9, 40; 26. 30; 31. 6, 11; 38. 22; 39. 42, 43.

3

19. 1; 24. 18; 31. 1-11; 32. 1-19; 35. 10-20, 30-35; 36. 2; 38. 22, 23; 40. 1, 2, 17.

4

25. 8; 29. 43-46; 40. 34-38.

5

38. 21; Acts 7. 44.

6

30. 11-16; 38. 25-28.

7

25. 1-7; 35. 4-9, 21-29; 36. 1-7; 38. 24-31.

8

Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vol. Hendrickson Publishers, 1996, vol. 1, pg. 437.

9

J. Evans, God’s Trees, Day One Publications, 2015, pg. 24.

10

H. Spurrell, A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, Penfold Book and Bible House.

11

26. 31-33; 36. 35, 36; 38. 27; Heb. 9. 2, 3, 7, 8; 10. 19, 20.

12

Lev. 16. 14; Heb. 9. 7, 8; 10. 19, 20.

13

30. 1-10; 37. 25-29; 40. 26, 27.

14

25. 23-30; 26. 35; 37. 10-16.

15

25. 31-40; 26. 20, 21; 37. 17-24; Lev. 24. 1-4.

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